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In Sicily, as in mainland Italy, 2017 was a challenging vintage, with a lot of very hot and dry weather. Thus vines at higher altitude - as on Mt. Etna - fared better, and it helped to have old vines, as they manage the "hydric stress" of drought better than younger plants. These factors may in part explain why Frank Cornelissen made great wines in 2017, wines that are balanced and fresh.
I've known Frank since 2003, which was his third vintage on Etna; at the time he was still a pioneer on the volcano. Soon after Frank came the famous Marc de Grazia (Tenuta Terre Nere); a trickle of new wineries has since become a flood, and the place is very chic. Comparisons frequently made between Etna and Burgundy, or Etna and Barolo, may be superficial, but I think they're intended to communicate the excitement that fans like me perceive in the high quality, diversity of terroir, and general rigor of the best Etna wines. There are also quite a lot of very perfectly good wine which is mostly pretty dull, and inevitably there is some dreadful wine.
Over the years Frank has expanded his holdings, but most importantly he's gained skill and practice. All of the wines are made in the same way, starting with organic farming that incorporates some biodynamic practices. In the cantina the grapes are destemmed and lightly crushed; a pied-de-cuve, using indigenous yeasts, starts the fermentations; the juice stays on the skins for about 60 days. Early fans or explorers sometimes had spoiled bottles - mostly, I think, because his first
NY distributor didn't have a temperature-controlled warehouse, which just doesn't work for storing unsulfured wine. He now uses very low amounts of sulfur (5-30mg), and while the wines are unfined, they get a "very light filtration to help stabilize the wines for travel". Properly handled from cantina to your home, you can count on these bottles to deliver. In Italy Frank was a very early practitioner of natural wine making, and each vintage he's made has brought more precision to his wines. These are remarkable expressions of a remarkable place. Jamie Wolff
PLEASE NOTE: The store is closed but we are taking orders online, and by phone. We're scrambling to keep up, but it will take a couple of days to deliver these wines.
A blend of Nerello Mascalese grapes taken from each of Cornelissen's single vineyards; the vines are over 60 years old. 12,000 bottles produced.
A 'feudo' is a farm; the Feudo di Mezzo is a large farm (now with many different owners), and this is from the lower ("Sottana") part of the farm, with elevations of about 580 metres, and 40 year old vines. Frank writes: "Although lower in the valley floor, the wines are of an unusual elegance which characterizes this area. Relatively deep soil which, in humid vintages can create some problems although the well ventilated site helps to get ripeness. Burgundian elegance and roundness, even in hot vintages makes this a special wine with finesse as it’s personality." 2500 bottles produced.
From the higher part of Feudo di Mezzo (640 metres), and vines over 60 years old.Frank writes "A challenging location in order to achieve perfection in maturation. It has the power as well as refined elegance... A complete wine." 2000 bottles produced.
85% Nerello Mascalese, with the balance Nerello Capuccio, Alicante Boushet, Minella, and Uva Francese - a blend more reflective of the old days on Mt. Etna than 100% Nerello Mascalese. From vines over 50 years old.
The vineyard called Chiusa Spagnola is at 620 metres above sea level; the vines are partly ungrafted, and are over 90 years old. Frank says Chiusa Spagnola produces wines that are "perfumed and tannic; lighter in color and more backward and Nebbiolo-ish compared to the other crus". 2500 bottles produced.
Cornelissen writes: "An extremely steep and terraced vineyard, beautifully exposed to sun and wind and right in front of mount Etna. The sandy clay soil and the old-vine Nerello Mascalese, planted in 1946, produces a rich and powerful wine, maintaining elegance. Our “Hermitage” of Etna." 2000 bottles produced.
Old vine (90+years) ungrafted Nerello Mascalese from Cornelissen's 3 highest vineyards (870-1000 metres). Frank writes: "It expresses beautifully the value and precision of the old vines, ungrafted Nerello Mascalese on the high terraces in the Northern valley of Mount Etna. The most Burgundian of all our crus." 2000 bottles produced.
Made from ungrafted vines over 100 years old, Magma is an amazing expression of Etna. Frank writes: "Our “Grand Vin” from our Barbabecchi vineyard at 910m. asl. Planted around 1910 and North-North East exposed, capturing the first and cool morning sun rays. This pure Nerello Mascalese from ungrafted old vines produces a profound wine, rich as well as elegant at the same time with character and personality: liquorice and oriental spices. Only produced in great vintages where we achieve full phenolic ripeness." 1500 bottles produced.